Last week, the Fairhope City Council declined Mayor Karin Wilson’s appointment of Col. Blake Waller to replace Pam Caudill on the Fairhope Airport Authority and tabled the nomination of Ron Hayes to the city’s Personnel Board.
Mayor Karin Wilson has been attempting to replace Caudill on the Airport Authority since March 2017, following the expiration of Caudill’s term.
“Like any new administration being voted in, I think the citizens have spoken and they do want fresh eyes out there,” Wilson said back in March 2017.
At that time, Wilson said if the council didn’t approve her nominees, she would bring forward other options, though she questioned why the council would want to do that and took time to say sitting members Caudill and Boothe had wronged her.
“Why would you bring another option when you can’t get better than this?” Wilson asked. “As far as names being dragged in the mud, Vince (Boothe) has dragged my name in the mud and Pam (Caudill) has been extremely rude to me.”
The Fairhope Airport Authority has been a source of contention between Wilson and several council members and Airport Authority board members since she took office, with Wilson trying to enforce a lease to pull 258 acres of land purchased in 2007 back into the city’s hands and Airport Authority members saying Wilson was purposefully blocking a $7.5 million bond refinance for the airport that cost them several hundred thousand dollars in increased interest payments.
Boothe spoke out on Caudill’s behalf during the citizen comments portion of the meeting, saying that he and Caudill had been targets of the mayor for some time.
“Why would we want to replaced the only woman on the Airport Authority?” Boothe questioned. “Why would we want to replace the hardest working member of the Airport Authority? Check out her resume in detail and know she’s the hardest working member who brings some of the best things to the Airport Authority.”
Wilson said she had previously tried to put another woman on the Airport Authority, but it was rejected by the council.
“I appointed a woman last year and that was turned down,” Wilson said. “I just try to point out the best people in our town that want to serve.”
Fairhope Airport Authority Joe McEnerney also spoke on Caudill’s behalf, lauding her work in planning events and taking the lead on the airport’s safety and endangerment plan.
“She’s been a great manager for us,” McEnerney said. “I genuinely appreciate her efforts.”
Local blogger Paul Ripp spoke out on Wilson’s behalf regarding the Airport Authority appointment.
“Appointments to the Airport Authority are the mayor’s to make,” Ripp said. “I’ve never seen it come up to where it was a controversy until this administration.”
When it came time for the council’s vote, Councilman Jimmy Conyers said he would vote for Wilson’s nominee in the spirit of compromise.
“We’re still dealing with this issue,” Conyers said. “I think trying to strike a balance and find some kind of compromise is a good thing.”
Wilson said she had been the one to sacrifice throughout this nomination holdup.
“I’m the only one that sacrifices because I don’t have any authority on the council,” Wilson said. “I really am the ultimate sacrificer.”
Councilman Robert Brown said he would also agree to vote for Col. Waller because he had promised the mayor he would agree to replacing her months ago.
Councilman Jay Robinson said he was torn on how to vote on the nomination.
“This is the third time on possibly replacing Pam as a member of the Airport Authority,” Robinson said. “I’ve actually voted both ways now - voted in favor of replacing her and keeping her.”
Robinson questioned the wisdom of politicizing board appointments like these.
“When you start politicizing volunteer positions and people are replaced just because there is a new mayor or new council, you worry about placing a chilling effect on volunteers because of political ramifications,” Robinson said. “The mayor has absolute authority to appoint someone when there is a vacancy, but as long as we have committed volunteers wanting to continue their service doing great or exceptional work, I have a hard time firing them.”
Council President Jack Burrell, who is the liaison to the Airport Authority for the council, said he respected the mayor’s authority to nominate appointees but said he still wanted to give Caudill an opportunity to continue to serve.
“Her dedication is such that even in all this fire she’s been in, she’s still willing to serve,” Burrell said. “She is the hardest working person on the Airport Authority.”
Burrell added that the recommendation from the Airport Authority months ago was to keep Caudill as a member.
The council split 3-2 in rejecting Wilson’s nomination of Waller, with Conyers and Brown voting for the nomination and Burrell, Robinson and Kevin Boone voting against.
The council then took up the issue of potentially appointing Ron Hayes to replace retiring Personnel Board member Lorenzo Howard.
The council questioned Personnel Board chair Diane Thomas on the nomination process used by the Personnel Board to find new members.
Thomas said the board usually asked for individuals to give them resumes and then would let board members informally meet with potential nominees. They would then ask the potential member to attend meetings to get a feel for what the board does.
“That takes maybe six weeks, which can be a little time consuming,” Thomas said. “We just want to see if we think this person is a good fit. If we are positive, we send our recommendation on to the mayor.”
When questioned if that was the procedure used to find Hayes, Thomas replied Wilson had told her a meeting she planned to propose her own nominee to the board.
Wilson said Thomas made no mention of that process in a meeting she had with Thomas and Howard prior to Howard’s resignation, which Thomas denied.
“I went over this process step by step with you,” Thomas said. “I went over all of that and you said ‘Well, I’ve lived in this community all my life and I know a number of people.’”
Thomas said she and other board members would like to go through their usual process with Wilson’s new nominee.
“It helps ensure the diversity and independence of the board,” Thomas said.
The council voted unanimously to table Hayes’ nomination until the Personnel Board had time to go through that process.
Over the course of Wilson’s term, the Personnel Board has reversed several of Wilson’s decisions involving city employees, including overturning her attempted demotion of HR Manager Pandora Heathcoe, the employee Wilson allegedly assaulted in Dec. 2016.
At a December Personnel Board meeting, member Rob Stankoski said he felt uncertain about the board’s future given the possible changes being suggested with appointments.
“I don’t know what the future of the board is going to be,” Stankoski said. “It seems the mayor has a certain vision for what she wants the board to be, but I don’t know what the law is on the nature of the board versus following the directive of the mayor. I just don’t know. I’m still wondering what the future of this board is.”